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June 6th, 2007 Jake Thomas | News Stories
 

Fired Up Again

Signature gatherers hit Portland streets with a new pot initiative.

     
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Spark up the signature gatherers for another marijuana initiative in Portland.

This initiative comes a year after another marijuana-related ballot proposal that would have mandated Portland police mellow out on marijuana crime fell well short of the needed 26,691 valid signatures.

But organizers of this more recent initiative are optimistic about qualifying for the November 2008 ballot, saying they're better organized this time.

"I've never run a campaign I've failed to qualify," says chief petitioner Parker Bell, a longtime signature gatherer who was fined $2,500 in 2004 (see "A Signature Issue," WW, Feb. 8, 2006).

His proposal aims to exempt adults carrying less than two ounces of pot outside their homes—and inside Portland city limits—from state marijuana laws. Growers also would be allowed three plants in total, and could keep up to eight ounces in their home when the plants are harvested.

The proposal also would bar Portland police officers from cooperating with state or federal marijuana enforcement.

The proposed 2006 initiative was more general, only relegating marijuana crimes to the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Bell says he will go door to door to gather signatures instead of focusing on high-traffic public places like last year's initiative. Bell says his approach yields a higher validation rate.

Even if the newer proposal makes the ballot and voters approve it, police are dubious about how they could decline working with federal or state law enforcement on marijuana trafficking when that trafficking often includes other drugs not covered by the initiative.

"I don't know how you would effectively comply with that," says Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz.

The Multnomah County District Attorney's office declined to comment, citing its role as the preparer of the ballot title. And the state attorney general's office also declined comment, saying it had not had an opportunity to analyze the proposal.

Currently, state law says possessing less than an ounce of marijuana subjects you to a fine of $500 up to a maximum of $1,000. Over an ounce, and you're looking at a potential 10-year prison sentence and $100,000 fine.

Bell was originally going to work with local marijuana activist Melodie Silverwolf and Madeline Martinez, executive director of the Oregon Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The three went as far as filing an initiative under Martinez and Silverwolf's names, but didn't get any further.

Both say they won't work with Bell on this initiative because they don't want marijuana decriminalized for felons and do want to limit the amount of marijuana that could be harvested from plants to three ounces instead of eight ounces.

Martinez also cites an inability to raise money for the effort.

Bell has received less than $500 in donations from local businesses, primarily head shops and businesses in Southeast Portland.

But he says he has several fundraisers planned for the summer, and that the 2,000 signatures already gathered in less than two months by volunteers convinces him that "I can probably do it on a volunteer effort."

 
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